The Moon (Luna) is the Earth's solitary natural satellite, roughly 385,000 kilometers away. It has roughly 38,000,000 square kilometers of surface area, and is not believed to harbor any life.
The Moon has had no human visitors since the end of the Apollo program in 1972. Unmanned missions ended in 1976 (Soviet Union, Luna 24 probe), only resuming at the end of 2013 (China, Yutu ("Jade Rabbit") rover).
Various nations have plans to send robotic visitors, but the 2011 cancellation of NASA's Constellation program ends any possibility of manned lunar landing before 2020. The European Space Agency's Aurora programme envisions human spaceflight to the moon in 2024; India and Japan also propose manned missions after 2020.
If you're content with just taking a closer look, Space Adventures and the Russian Space Agency have floated the idea of a flight around the moon for a cool US$100 million or so; see Space for details.
If you cannot get into space, you can still see the Moon from Earth; see Astronomy.
As of now, only 24 lucky souls have ever flown to the moon during nine missions from 1968 to 1972 (though you'd be wise not to mention that to the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, especially Commander Jim Lovell, who flew there twice without landing.) Of those 24, only 12 of them landed and walked on the moon.
Conventional aircraft are useless on the Moon since there is no atmosphere to generate the aerodynamic lift they require to fly. Internal combustion engines would be likewise as they would have to carry around both fuel and oxidizer (i.e. air) and there are issues with cooling in a near perfect vacuum that most normal engines are not adapted to. The primary method of transportation has been (battery powered) lunar rovers, three of which are still stranded at Mons Hadley, the Descartes Highland and the Taurus-Littrow valley. Whether they still are in any workable condition or can be brought into one with limited repairs is currently not known.
Gravity on the Moon's surface is only one-sixth of the Earth, which compensates in part for having to wear a bulky pressurized spacesuit. Most of the Apollo astronauts have "walked" in a rather peculiar half jumping fashion that is only possible due to the lower gravity and appears to be the best form of locomotion due to the somewhat motorically limiting nature of a space-suit.
Due to several considerations (lack of air, low gravity, no energy resources apart from sunlight) magnetic levitation railways have been proposed as a possible method of transportation once a moonbase (or several) is established. However, currently the plans for moonbases that do exist are not detailed enough to include such features.
- Luna 2, Exact location unknown (Near Aristides, Archimedes, and Autolycus craters). The first man-made object to reach the Moon.
- Earth. Visible from only one side of the Moon. It looks like what the moon looks like on earth; there are full earths, crescent earths, and new earths! However, contrary to popular misconceptions, if you don't move you will only ever see the earth in the same place and no such thing as an "earthrise".
- Dark Side of The Moon. Visit the part of the moon that is not visible from the earth. However, it is said "there is no dark side in the moon, really. As a matter of fact it's all dark". (The real truth is that it's lit half the time: the same time that the side facing Earth is dark.) So far no manned vehicle has ever landed or attempted to land there. We have satellite images, but only the Apollo astronauts who circled the moon have ever seen it with their own eyes. Also visible in most good music shops.
Apollo landing sites
- Mare Tranquillitatis (Apollo 11 Landing Site), The Sea of Tranquility (Near Sabine and Ritter craters). The location of the first manned moon landing. On July 21, 1969, NASA astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" E. Aldrin set foot on the moon to become the first humans to ever touch another celestial body. Look for the American flag that was knocked over by the exhaust of the departing ascent stage of Eagle, the lunar lander, and the television camera left behind. Try not to disturb the footprints in the soil — due to the lack of an atmosphere and erosion, the footprints will likely remain as they are, completely undisturbed, for millions of years to come. Lastly, try to find the plaque on the remaining descent stage of the lunar lander, which contains the names and signatures of the crew of Apollo 11, then–U.S. President Richard Nixon, and a message commemorating the location as being where the first landing took place.
- Oceanus Procellarum (Apollo 12 Landing Site). The location of the second manned moon landing, Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms) is also the location of the Surveyor 3 unmanned space probe, the only space probe to have landed on another planet and had parts of it returned to the Earth.
- Fra Mauro Highlands (Apollo 14 Landing Site). The location of the third manned moon landing, the Fra Mauro Highlands contain the massive, 80-kilometer-diameter crater of the same name within. Also the location of Alan Shepard's impromptu golf excursion, if you're one for putting.
- Hadley Rille (Apollo 15 Landing Site). The location of the fourth manned moon landing, the Hadley Rille is located within an expanse of the Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains) known as the Palus Putredinus (Marsh of Decay.) Maria (plural of mare, Latin for "sea") are the areas on the moon that are dark grey in coloration. The location of the first Lunar Roving Vehicle (the Lunar Rover for short) is located here. Also the location of the Fallen Astronaut, a small plaque and aluminum sculpture, placed face down in the regolith by the crew of Apollo 15, that commemorates the 8 American astronauts and 6 Soviet cosmonauts who had lost their life up to the mission (late July/August 1971.)
- Descartes Highlands (Apollo 16 Landing Site). The location of the fifth manned moon landing and the second of the three lunar roving vehicles. Look for large rocks to take home; this was the site where the largest rock returned by the Apollo missions, nicknamed "Big Muley", was found. Also, look for "House Rock", a massive formation taller than a four-story building, in the vicinity of the landing site. Lastly, look for the family photo of astronaut Charlie Duke that he left behind on the surface.
- Taurus-Littrow (Apollo 17 Landing Site). The location of the sixth and (thus far) final manned moon landing, Taurus-Littrow is a massive valley located in the Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity), and named for the nearby Taurus range of lunar peaks and the Littrow crater. Look for the famed orange volcanic soil that was discovered on the moon here, as well as the third and final lunar roving vehicle. Also, look for "TDC" etched into the lunar regolith by Gene Cernan in honor of his then-nine-year-old daughter, Tracy. As with everything else on the moon, this will likely last for millions of years due to the lack of erosion and atmosphere.
- Rock collecting is the most obvious hobby, and it's easy to do since the Moon is one giant rock. Dust collecting is also a favorite among tourists.
- Plant your nation's flag on the lunar surface. Be sure to take plenty of photographs to show to the folks back home.
- Play golf. There are no established golf courses available, but the moon does provide you with an excellent opportunity to practice your sand trap shots.
- The moonwalk. Could be tricky in a space-suit, but there is no better place to do it.
- Take lots of pictures. Make sure you use a specially designed camera that can be operated with the bulky gloves that are usually part of a space-suit.
- Astronomy on the moon is most likely great. While you can't see any stars in broad daylight on the moon either, the lack of atmosphere means no twinkling and no obstructions and given that there is no artificial light or radio interference from earth, there have been serious proposals to establish an observatory on the back side of the moon.
While ancient legends on Earth report the reflection of the moon to appear as a wheel of green cheese, there are no restaurants or shops available on the Moon and therefore no food service amenities and no moon pies. Take all the food you need with you. Astronaut food has been called incredibly bland, but then again so has airline food.
- Moon River, wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style some day. Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker...
There is next to nothing to drink on the moon as the surface is primarily desert (in fact even the soil in the driest places on earth such as the Atacama or the Namib contains more water than the surface Regolith on the moon by one or several orders of magnitude). Although there is ice located in deep craters in the polar regions, access is awkward at best.
Thus far, all manned missions have brought their needed water with them. The modern International Space Station has some water reclamation capability, but missions in the Apollo era did not. Due to its weight, water is expensive and costly to transport but there is no viable alternative.
The next phase of lunar exploration will probably involve the construction of permanent manned bases in the Moon's polar regions. In the meantime accommodation is limited to what you bring. The lunar landers of the Apollo program have all been equipped to be used for sleeping, so chances are whatever you land in will be as well.
Due to the fact that there are no humans on the moon, there is no crime (unless travel companions are unreliable).
The universe however is generally inhospitable and this will become all too apparent once you leave the comforts of Earth. In addition to the obvious problems of freezing cold temperatures and the lack of a breathable atmosphere, in order to stay alive you will have to take precautions against:
- Solar storms and cosmic rays (there is no magnetic field to deflect these high energy particles)
- Meteor impacts (there is no atmosphere to burn them before they impact the surface)
Bear in mind that the temperatures also get well below freezing if you are not in direct sunlight. If you are, you run the risk of skin cancer.
There are no hospitals or emergency medical facilities on the Moon, and the response times by the emergency services take longer than the recommended guidelines. Oxygen deficiency may also be a problem. However, there are no infectious diseases on the moon and neither are there pests. Make sure you maintain strict hygiene with everything you bring to keep it that way. Be aware that if any medical emergency does arise, the nearest substantial healthcare provider is at least 3 days away - and you have to go to them, they aren't coming to you. On the plus side, it's been shown that microgravity and a pure oxygen environment (which you may be breathing in) is beneficial to body to some extent when high stress on the cardiovascular system is detected.
Communications back to Earth, as deployed for the Apollo missions, are primitive but usable. Slow-scan television (SSTV) lunar transmissions must share communication bandwidth with telemetry data. Image data from the five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft is transmitted to Earth stations "M" (Madrid, Spain), "W" (Woomera, Australia) and "G" (Goldstone, California) and logged to tape. As real-time conversions from SSTV format for live broadcast on Earth were initially little more than primitive screenshots, by the time that July 21, 1969 moonwalk gets uploaded to YouTube substantial losses in image quality are visible.
Transmission from lunar rover via a Command Service Module in lunar orbit to Earth is infeasible for visitors to the lunar poles or the dark side of the Moon, as line-of-sight transmission to Earth is simply not available. A 2008 NASA proposal advocates lunar-orbiting satellites as a workaround but no system has been deployed.
A postmark exists for "United States on the Moon", a rare one-of-a-kind collector item. A matching pair of 8¢ stamps were issued by USPS with captions "United States in Space", "A decade of achievement". The mail pouch is stored under Apollo 15 commander David Scott's seat on the lunar rover, last seen around Hadley Rille on August 2, 1971. Be sure to send or bring back a few moon dust covered postcards as souvenirs.